I first heard of Mr. Ledger back in 2000 when he costarred with Mel Gibson in the revolutionary war action film Patriot. I didn’t think much of him other than a young guy they hired to play Gibson’s son. I don’t think many others did as well, but we’re talking 8 years ago and all I cared about in that film were the violence and bloodshed the trailers promised.After Patriot I wouldn’t see another film of his for another five years when Brother’s Grimm and Brokeback Mountain came out in ’05.
Brothers Grimm was a weird movie that I saw for the effects and Terry Gilliam. I saw Ledger and Damon as just a couple names to sell a product so I cannot. As much as I loved Good Will Hunting I still felt that way about Damon (yet for some reason I am a Ben Affleck fan). As far as his acting in the film I am sorry to say I really can’t recall my impressions of him.
Then comes a little film called Brokeback Mountain. My old view of his role in that he came off as wooden, but necessarily so. His character was a man who keeps his opinions and emotions inside where no one can get to them. I felt his performance was one of the most natural and organic as any I’ve ever seen filmed. He owned this film. Donnie Darko was just an understudy compared to what Ledger did. He actually had an air of classic Eastwood about him, saying more with his glare than with his delivery of dialogue. I suppose the biggest testament to his power as an actor is that I came out of that theater hating the character of Ennis. Not because he was gay but because he knew he was hurting his wife and children, but carried himself through as an emotionless dipshit, never trying to remedy the situation one way or another. After talking to someone after it I made a comment about how I hated Ledger’s acting because i felt no emotion toward him. She told me ‘isn’t your feeling of hatred toward him bringing out emotions right now?’ crude gay jokes aside, i fell in love with him as an actor after that.
In the years following he didn’t make any films that I was excited to see him in. He had yet to hold the clout with me as some actors have (Steve Buscemi, Bruce Willis, and Bruce Cambell) that I’d see a film just because they had involvement.
Then came The Dark Knight. I don’t need to explain my excitement over this film. As many of you know I am a huge Batman junkie, been one since I was a kid. Admittedly I was less than enthused by the news that Ledger had been cast as Joker. As much as I loved him in Brokeback, it was still in line with roles he had done before. Playing the Joker is, by no stretch of the imagination, different than anything an actor could try and portray. The lawlessness, the lack of empathy and the degrees in which he conducts his crimes. I’ve always felt none of the live action portrayals of Joker had come close to what I had always seen in my mind’s eye. Even the great Jack Nicholson paled in comparison to what I felt was Joker. The closest thing I had ever come to seeing MY Joker realized was Mark Hamill on the Batman Animated Series. My Joker is a cold, calculating and menacing bastard who doesn’t give a fuck whom he hurts as long as he gets a cheap thrill and a laugh. I still hadn’t seen him.
At least until I saw I AM LEGEND and the trailer for Dark Knight aired. I was completely knocked out by what I saw. I didn’t see the handsome young actor I saw in Broke Back and Patriot, I saw a soulless son of a bitch. There were no parlor tricks, no funny ha-ha gas that permanently etches a smile on the victim’s face. No comedy, just death. It seemed to me that MY Joker had finally been realized and born. At risk of sounding clich©d I had goose bumps watching it. Seeing him standing there in the center of the street, looking into the camera. It still chills me thinking about it. He embodied my Joker the way Alfred Molina played my Dr. Octopus. They both had what I always loved about the villains. I always felt they made Joker too warm and Doc Dock too cold. But realization of comic book villains is a story for another day…
I had high hopes that the writers of Dark Knight Rises would bring him back in as Joker for a second appearance. Now those hopes are dashed. I’m not sure, exactly, why i feel the total sadness i do at the news of his passing. Perhaps it’s because it’s another reminder of our mortality, Ledger was 28 (as I have been told by countless people- damn you Wikipedia for the wrong birthday), two years older than me at that time. A year younger than my brother. I’m guessing that’s the reason. I don’t know. After hearing the news of his passing I realized that I liked Ledger a lot more than I thought I had, and this much is obvious by the words I’m writing about now. He seemed like a great actor, a genuine and good man. I don’t feel his death was on purpose, just a sad accident.
People compared him to Marlon Brando. Perhaps if God allowed him to he would have fulfilled that role in time. But now he will be relegated to the ranks of James Dean and River Phoenix, young stars at the top of their game who tragically died too soon.